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Walmart filed more drone patents than Amazon last year

  • In 2018, Walmart edged out archrival Amazon when it came to filing for drone technology patents.
  • Walmart filed 56 requests, while Amazon filed 54.
  • These initiatives reflect the changing nature of retail and consumers' "want it now" mentality.

Walmart appears to have won the latest round of its delivery war with Amazon. Both retailers were among the most frequent filers of drone technology patents in 2018 -- but Walmart edged out its competitor, filing 56 of them, compared to Amazon's 54, according to a report from accounting firm BDO. 

The brick-and-mortar stalwart and online retail behemoth have been battling to offer consumers speedier delivery options with tit-for-tat investments in high-tech delivery capabilities -- including drones. Amazon in April announced it would would invest $800 million to cut free delivery time for Prime members down to a day.

Three weeks later, Walmart launched its own free next-day delivery service. "Customer expectations continue to rise," Marc Lore, CEO of Walmart's U.S. e-commerce division told The Associated Press at the time. "We're trying to get ahead of that." 

In June, Amazon revealed footage of a new delivery drone, part of a project dubbed Prime Air. It aims to enable drone delivery of small packages within 30 minutes. 

These initiatives make sense, given the changing nature of retail and consumers' "want it now" mentality. "It doesn't surprise me that Walmart and some others are armoring up with their patents and control over their technology because clearly they see drone-based delivery as part of their future plans," Tony Spillet, National head of technology and Media for BDO told CBS MoneyWatch.

Patents for every part

The large number of patents reflects the many small components that are part of big technological developments. "If you look at the whole program of building and developing a drone, you could slice it up into maybe 100 parts," Spillet said. "If you take out a patent over each individual part, you can then defend it piece by piece."

Spillet noted that Walmart retains at least one competitive advantage over Amazon: Its large network of stores. 

FAA approves first drone delivery service 01:50

Its patent filings also show that the retailer is aiming to cut people from the cost of delivery. "They are thinking, we still believe in our stores, but we need to be able to get things out of our store more effectively," Spillet said. 

Amazon also needs to up its delivery game, Spillet said. "They are saying we compete on price and slick delivery, and we are going to get even better at it." 

Worldwide, the number of patents filed for drone technology at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) rose 34% to 9,485 in 2018, up from 7,076 the year before. Walmart and Amazon each filed for more patents than the U.K., where just 38 patents were registered in 2018, according to the report.  

Neither Walmart nor Amazon responded to CBS MoneyWatch's request for comment. 

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